Ryan Poles continues to tinker with the offensive line
For those of us who like to play in the trenches, hearing Ryan Poles’ press conference when he was hired was music to the ears. He outlined how he wanted to build the offensive and defensive lines and rebuild from there.
Ryan Pace largely ignored the offensive line. Using only mid-level free agent acquisitions, never spending a first-round pick, and only spending four days two picks on offensive linemen (yes, I remember you, Hroniss Grasu) during all his tenure, it was frustrating never to see the offensive line get enough focus.
But the Poles said it would be a priority. His first offseason was a challenge with limited draft capital and not a lot of money to spend. He signed a low-level signing with Lucas Patrick and spent several days three picks on the offensive line, including Braxton Jones.
With money to spend, I think many Chicago Bears fans expected the Poles to spend a lot on the offensive line this offseason. I thought landing two starting-quality free agents was the minimum, and at this point the Poles have only been spending $10 million a year on right guard Nate Davis.
I’ve heard from people ‘in the know’ that Nate Davis will be right guard and Teven Jenkins could move to left guard or not fit with the team’s future plans, but other ‘in the know’ people have said that Davis would move to left guard.
What does that mean? That means the offensive line isn’t complete yet and the Bears don’t know exactly what things will look like. What’s clear at this point is that the Bears still have two big needs in the center of the offensive line and at right tackle.
At this point, I don’t see a way to fix the right tackle in free agency. Larry Borom will be the “starter” until April 27, when the Bears will inevitably draft Paris Johnson or Broderick Jones. I think these two players have hit a lot of boxes on Ryan Poles’ checklist and I think this will be the hit at nine. It’s unfortunate because I think the Bears could still do a lot with the ninth draft pick, including Jalen Carter or trade, but at this point I don’t really see that as possible. They have to draft a tackle.
Whether the rookie or Braxton Jones plays on the right side will be up to the Poles and the coaching staff, but I’m pretty confident you can put that in ink at this point. As for the inside, Nate Davis played right guard for nearly a decade. He’s a pro and he could probably handle the move to the left side (it’s much easier to make that change inside than at tackle), but it also puts him out of position.
Teven Jenkins’ move to left guard will see him play a new position for the fourth consecutive year. Jenkins primarily played right tackle his senior year at Oklahoma State, learned left tackle his freshman year with the Bears, and later moved to right guard. Passing Jenkins to left guard opens the door for Jenkins to regress.
I think if you’re Polish and you’re part of the coaching staff, you play against whoever you think best fits your long-term plans at the right guard. My bet is on Davis, with Jenkins on the move again. Despite Jenkins’ excellent development and performance in 2022, I still feel like this diet doesn’t fully embrace him. I’m having a hard time seeing Jenkins seeing a second contract in Chicago.
If Jenkins is indeed in question as to his future, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Poles sign yet another lineman. If I had to put money on one, I’d go with Isaac Seumalo of the Philadelphia Eagles. Seumalo played right guard last year but has plenty of experience at left guard. It would certainly mean trouble for Jenkins in the future.
That leaves us with center where the Bears have Lucas Patrick and the Poles hinted during his press conference that Cody Whitehair could return to center once more. If I had to guess, I think Whitehair might be released at a later date (after June 1). I think the Poles don’t want to sign an available cross but if he can land a day two cross (John Michael Schmitz and Luke Wypler are two that come to mind) I would expect the plan is to have Lucas Patrick and the rookie fight in camp for the starting position.
I know some fans looked at Whitehair and said he was a solid option at center, but this is not 2018 Cody Whitehair. The Whitehair I saw on guard after returning from injury was one of a declining veteran who shouldn’t be in the plans for 2023 if at all possible.
In short, the offensive line as it is currently constituted is not going to cut it for 2023, but there is room for improvement in the draft. If the Bears add a day one and day two lineman to the team, the line will be young, somewhat unproven, but with plenty of potential to keep Justin Fields going for years to come.